Updated December 2020. How to Volunteer at the Olympics: A Guide to Tokyo 2020 was originally written in November 2018.
Sitting at the edge of your seat at home watching athletes like Simone Biles, Usain Bolt or Allyson Felix will never feel the same as being on your feet, cheering loudly with an entire crowd in an Olympic stadium.
The energy is unreal.
The chance to be a part of the Olympics only comes every four years. Tokyo 2020 sought out 80,000 volunteers from all over the world and maybe you’re one of them!
The Olympic Games was originally set to happen from July 24 to August 9, 2020, while the Paralympic Games set from August 25 to September 6, 2020.
Volunteer applications are open to all nationalities and accepted until early December 2018. The application period to volunteer for the 2020 Olympics is now closed.
Covid-19 Coronavirus Update
Due to Covid-19 coronavirus, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been postponed to 2021. The Olympics are scheduled for July 23 to August 8, 2021, and the Paralympics will be held from August 24 to September 5, 2021. These new dates were confirmed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The rise of Covid-19 has caused many changes in what to expect during Tokyo’s Olympic Games, and many have already asked for a ticket refund.
Even with all of the uncertainty surrounding the Olympic Games, a lot of reassurance has been made to let us know that Tokyo 2020 will still go on… just scaled down to cut costs.
Keep reading for a guide on how to volunteer at the Olympics.
How to Volunteer at the Olympics
- Why Volunteer at the Olympics?
- Who Can Volunteer at the Olympics?
- What is the Tokyo 2020 Games Vision?
- Do You Need to Know Another Language?
- What are the Different Volunteer Opportunities at the Olympics?
- How Much Does it Cost to Volunteer?
- What Do You Get as an Olympic Games Volunteer?
- How to Apply to be an Olympic Games Volunteer?
- Next Steps For Olympic Volunteers
Why Volunteer at the Olympics?
Being a Games Volunteer at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was one of the best experience I’ve had. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There is something for everyone at the Olympics.
Watch athletes make history right in front of your eyes. Learn about new cultures. Experience a new city. Make lifelong friends from all over the world.
You get to be part of a global event that has more than 4.8 billion people watch from home.
The coolest thing is that your main job as a volunteer is to raise the level of excitement for the Olympic Games!
Another way you will help with the success of the games is to demonstrate the strengths of the Japanese people, such as the Japanese spirit of hospitality, omotenashi, and the sense of responsibility.
Trading commemorative pins at the Olympics is a BIG deal.
You can expect to trade pins with athletes, volunteers and spectators. Join in on the fun and bring pins from your home country.
I’ll make sure to bring pins from Alaska.
International hospitality houses are common throughout Olympic host cities.
Houses are either free and open to the public or restricted to Olympians and their guests, like the U.S., Canada or Great Britain Houses.
Most houses are a place to showcase a countries culture. Rio 2016 had 30 official houses.
The Portugal House was on a historic boat. The German House was situated right on Leblon Beach and you could buy German beer and food. Holland Heineken House and Club France were known as the places to party.
Some houses require pre-registration and/or an entrance fee.
Make sure to keep your eye on this because these experiences are not to be missed!
Who Can Volunteer at the Olympics?
London 2012 had 78,000 volunteers, Rio 2016 had 50,000 volunteers and Tokyo 2020 is seeking 80,000 volunteers.
Volunteer applications are accepted from all over the world in order to meet this number.
There are no qualifications to be a volunteer but there are some basic requirements:
- 18 years old by April 1, 2020
- Participate in training sessions
- You must have a visa to stay in Japan if necessary
- Volunteer for at least 10 days
- Fulfill your role through to the end
- You have a desire to be part of a team
- Basic knowledge of Olympic and Paralympic Games
- A desire to use English and other foreign language skills
- Valid license for transport roles
- Volunteering experience is preferred
What is the Tokyo 2020 Games Vision?
Each Olympic Games has a Games Vision to help ensure its success. The Tokyo 2020 Games Vision is:
“Sport has the power to change our world and the future. The Tokyo 1964 Games completely transformed Japan. The Tokyo 2020 Games, as the most innovative in history, will bring positive reform to the world by building on three core concepts:
- “Striving for your personal best (Achieving personal best)”
- “Accepting one another (Unity in diversity)”
- “Passing on Legacy for the future (Connecting to tomorrow)”
Do You Need to Know More Than One Language?
You do not need to know more than one language to be a volunteer. There are many volunteer roles that do not require language skills.
You will have to provide an answer to your Japanese proficiency level on your application. Even if you only know one word, you can select “beginner.”
A lot of athletes, spectators, and volunteers will be traveling from all over the world and you will find that a lot of people will speak English.
As with traveling to any foreign country, you may find that you’ll enjoy your experience more if you can communicate at a basic conversational level.
What are the Different Volunteer Opportunities?
There are many different volunteer opportunities at the Olympics. You can select up to three preferred volunteer roles on your application but this will not guarantee that you will be matched with one of your three choices.
During Rio 2016, I worked as an Event Services Team Member in the Events Category. My role varied daily from guiding spectators to their seats by wearing a giant inflatable pointer finger on my hand to helping translate basic Portuguese for spectators going through security checks.
Here are the different volunteer opportunities:
- Guidance. Guide spectators to their seats, check tickets, and support security checks. You may also be sent to airports and hotels to help athletes.
Target: 16,000 – 25,000
- Events. Support operations at competition and training venues.
Target: 15,000 – 17,000
- Mobility Support. Drive vehicles to transport participants between venues.
Target: 15,000 – 17,000
- Personal Support. Welcome delegations from over 200 countries and assist with foreign language services for athletes during their stay or during media interviews.
Target: 8,000 – 12,000
- Operational Support. Distribute volunteer uniforms and equipment. Issue IDs to Games participants and volunteers. Check-in staff members and volunteers daily.
Target: 8,000 – 10,000
- Healthcare. Be a first responder during medical emergencies. Support tests for athletes administered by doping officials.
Target: 4,000 – 6,000
- Technology. Enter data and display competition results. Provide support with technology and communications equipment.
Target: 2,000 – 4,000
- Media. Provide support during interviews and press operations. Manage reporters and photographers. Take photos and video recordings of Olympic Games.
Target: 2,000 – 4,000
- Ceremonies. Guide athletes and personnel to positions. Hold medals and commemorative items.
Target: 1,000 – 2,000
How Much Does it Cost to Volunteer?
Volunteering for the Olympics does have its associated costs. For the most part, you are on your own in Tokyo.
You will have to pay for transport to/from Tokyo. You can wait to do this in 2021 when you have confirmation that you’ve been accepted as a volunteer.
Accommodations are a huge expense of any travel budget.
In Rio 2016, you had to find you own accommodations. During the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, volunteers were put up with nearby accommodations.
I’ve heard that Tokyo 2020 will be assisting volunteers with accommodations but with the large amount of volunteers they will need, it’s hard to believe that this will be the case.
I stayed in Rio de Janeiro for a month and prices were incredibly inflated during the time surrounding the Olympics.
The cost to stay at a hostel in a shared dorm was nearly $100 USD/night – so expensive!
Luckily, I managed to find a couchsurfing host for most of the time I was in Rio.
You will also need daily spending money for food, game tickets or other activities. The current exchange rate is 1 Yen = .0096 USD.
What Do You Get as a Volunteer?
There are a few different perks of being a volunteer.
You will be provided with a set of originally designed Olympic and Paralympic Games volunteer uniforms (shirt, jacket, pants, hat, shoes, bag).
Food and drinks will be provided on your working days.
Travel expenses within the city will be covered with 1,000 yen/day. In Rio, we were given a Metro Card.
You can also expect to get a few pairs of tickets for various sport competitions. I received tickets for two games in Rio!
BONUS. A huge perk as a volunteer is the power of having a volunteer badge! Use your badge to enter side entrances into some of the Olympic houses around the city. It might not work for all of the houses but it definitely helps. Take advantage of it!
How to Apply to be an Olympic Games Volunteer?
Applying to be an Olympic Games Volunteer is easier than you think. There’s no harm in submitting an application if you’re unsure where you’ll be in 2021.
You can always withdraw your application at a later date.
In order to complete your application, you will need your passport, a photo for your ID, and any language proficiency test results if applicable.
- Complete a new registration
- Read through the policy and agree to the terms and conditions
- Complete the application form
- Confirm your e-mail address
- Launch the Games Volunteer My Page
The entire Olympic volunteer application process takes two years. It may seem like a long time but it’s so worth it.
- September to early December 2018: Applications are accepted.
- January to July 2018: Orientation notifications for interviews are sent out.
- February 2019: Participation in an orientation session. Orientation sessions for anyone outside of Japan will be conducted by video call between March and July 2019.
- September 2019: Notification of training sessions.
- October 2019: General training. Applicants are required to attend one, 3-4 hour general training session. These sessions will help applicants gain basic knowledge required as volunteers. Applicants overseas can expect this training in June 2020.
- March 2020: Notification of role and location of volunteer activities.
- April 2020: Role-specific and leadership training.
- May 2020: Distribution of uniforms begin. Uniforms will also be distributed in the days preceding the Olympics.
- September 2020: General training online.
- July 23, 2021: Let the Olympic Games begin!
- August 24, 2021: Let the Paralympic Games begin!
If you are outside of Japan, you will most likely interview in a group video call with eight other people from all over the world.
The interview is a mix of receiving basic information about the Olympics and answering a few questions about why you want to be a volunteer.
During the interview, our moderator left us to have a group discussion, which seemed to be a team-building activity.
By the end of the interview, I had no clue as to how they decide who would be accepted as a volunteer.
The best advice is to show that you’re an enthusiastic, team player.
Next Steps For Olympic Volunteers
- Follow Tokyo 2020 on Facebook.
- Join a Facebook Group like US Volunteers for Tokyo 2020.
- Make friends by joining a WhatsApp Group (usually discovered in Facebook Groups).
- Check out this cool video about the Olympic venue.
Pin For Later
Do you have questions on volunteering for Tokyo 2021? Let me know in the comments.